Occasionally, one of the teenagers who hangs around our place will decide that I'm The Cool Mom. Sadly, whatever Attraction Rays I emanate do not seem to affect my own kids. No, it's someone who observes me during a sleepover or a field trip who thinks: “This is great! I wish my house was like this!”
I'm not really sure why it should be so. I'm about as far as you can get from being the mom in the Brady Bunch. I tease kids. I make the bashful ones talk. I demand that the cheerleaders eat ice cream. I won't let anyone watch or play anything rated over G unless they call home and get permission.
The most recent kid in question is actually a young woman – she turned 18 a few weeks ago. She's one of those super-achiever kids who does everything in high school – she has had starring roles in every play, every year; she's in the select choir; she's a speech-team captain; she's in advanced-placement classes; she's an editor on the paper; and so on, ad infinitum.
She's also overcome a rather rough start in life. She was an emancipated minor well before this recent birthday came around, and has since lived with a series of friends. She has a job after school and on the weekends and spends her “free” time taking National Geographic-worthy photographs. She is extremely competent at everything she attempts, but sometimes, under her constant “Go, Go, Go!,” her sadness is palpable.
Call her Ana. She's been over many times, of course; she's in speech with Sassy, music with Jack, and drama with both of the kids. She started out bold and brassy until she realized that everyone here is as smart as she is and she didn't have to prove herself; then she gradually relaxed. Last weekend she was able to perch perfectly happily on a stool at the breakfast bar, content to watch some verbal jousting between me and the oldest boy. She fits in to our odd group very comfortably.
Since that overnight she's made sweet comments on Facebook (including a very pretty private note to me thanking me for having her over) and I've heard from the kids that she loves being here and considers me her mentor – high, high praise indeed from someone as on-the-ball as is Ana.
Bear with me, because there is a point to all of this and it is not self-congratulation.
Friday night Sassy made waffles for dinner. Ana said appreciatively, “Sassy, you are such a good cook. You'll be really good at housewife-type things.” Then she looked concerned and hurried on to say, “I mean that in the most non-insulting way possible!”
“Ana,” I asked quietly, “Do you think that calling someone a housewife is an insult?”
Rocky and Sassy – who have learned to remain motionless and try to blend into the background whenever I ask something quietly – both inhaled sharply. Their eyes got really big.
I actually wasn't trying to pick a fight, though. Something about Ana finally became clear to me. So many people of her generation – the newest adults, stepping up now to take their places in the world – think that the point of feminism was to eradicate housewives.
People Ana's age grew up believing that it is demeaning to make sacrifices for mates or for children. They grew up knowing that anyone could assume what used to be called “men's roles” when they became adults. They grew up expecting independence as their birthright and assuming that not only can they have it all, they should have it all – no matter what it costs them.
They grew up overwhelmed and lonely.
Then they come to my house. I stop what I'm doing and listen to them (or ignore them, if the occasion calls for it), I joke with them, I feed them. I will time their speeches, I'll listen to the songs they write and I'll remember who's a vegetarian and how they like their eggs.
Simply put: I'm THERE.
My kids will be the first to tell you that living with a dedicated on-site mother is not a walk in the park. For every tender confidence or witty exchange, there are at least 20 “have you done your homework” or “take the garbage out” moments. We expect a great deal from our children and we don't kid around when it comes to rules, manners, morals and appropriate behavior. Having a hands-on mother means your mother's there a lot, and when she's there, she's motherin'.
Most every parent makes an effort to be there for the big things - the proms, the concerts, the graduations – and that's important. Showing up for these things says Hey, I'm here to share your Big Moment, and I'm proud of you.
I suspect, however, that the Small Moments are what count the most in the long run.
Kids will love a once-in-a-lifetime Disney vacation, but it's the bedtime stories every single night that teach them to let their imaginations soar.
Cheering in the stands at the Little League Championships is great, but depending on someone who will drop EVERYTHING to be there for them if they call is what gives a child the confidence to go out into the big wide world.
Invitations from the Honor Society and praise from the boss are wonderful things, but knowing that someone is waiting for you every day after school – someone who will be delighted to see you, who will feed you and fuss over you a bit and really listen to you – that kind of love makes you know that you are Somebody.
Everyone wants to be loved like that.
A family built around that kind of love attracts wandering kids like moths to a flame – even as they unconsciously belittle the skill that went into creating what they crave so badly.
I love Ana, and I am very proud of her. She is quick and funny and tender-hearted, and she gulps Life in huge mouthfuls. I'm honored that she likes me, too, and will cook eggs for her any time (never scrambled, over-easy with the yolks left runny). Ana is one of the Good People.
Still, I can't help but wonder . . . how different would her life be she'd grown up in an age where “housewife” wasn't a dirty word?